Public Service Association president Watson Duke is threatening to shut down the Immigration Division’s operations at the Piarco International Airport, as he says the Government has failed the officers by not providing proper personal protective equipment (PPE).
Duke’s statements come following news that 13 immigration officers have tested positive for the COVID-19 virus and 84 more are in quarantine.
During a press conference at the PSA headquarters in Port-of-Spain yesterday, Duke gave statistics on the number of face masks, hand sanitisers and hazmat suits the officers were given over a 51-day period. He said during this period, 5,000 people had travelled in and out of the country.
“You know how many surgical masks they gave them to deal with 5,000 passengers between January 4 and February 24? Fifty-one days, you know how much masks they gave them? 250 surgical face masks,” Duke said.
He said there are 90 immigration officers assigned to work at the airport but the entire group was given 180 bottles of hand sanitiser, each measuring 250 ml and 25 hazmat suits. He said they were also given gloves but all the gloves were the same size, making them difficult for the female officers to use.
Duke accused National Security Minister Stuart Young of being a ‘wordsmith’ and using ‘big words’ to deflect from not providing the proper PPE for the officers.
“We are demanding all the PPE is provided for all employees, we will not be accepting that stock ran out.”
He said the Government had breached Section 6 of the Occupational Health and Safety Act by not providing a safe work environment for the officers.
“They have failed in fulfilling their legal duty to these employees. The PSA will have a zero-tolerance on that for immigration, for customs at the airport, and at any moment we will shut it down, flat on its back, no warning, no further warning,” Duke said.
When asked to address a post on social media that alleged immigration officers were infected with the virus while attending two parties, Duke said those allegations were untrue.
“We expect them to do that, this is PNM style – blame the workers. There is no evidence of that, it is all made up to make the workers look irresponsible. Ask yourself where is the head of the Immigration Division? Where is she? Out of the country. Ask yourself if anyone really cares about those workers.”
Ministry probes source of virus
The Ministry of National Security says it is investigating the circumstances surrounding how a group of Immigration Division officers recently contracted COVID-19.
“There is preliminary evidence that suggests that the contraction of COVID-19 may not have been directly associated with the official performance of duties by personnel,” a release from the ministry said.
It said the ministry’s permanent secretaries, Gary Joseph and Nataki Atiba-Dilchan, met with acting Chief Immigration Officer Derek Craigwell to discuss current immigration-related issues after Minister Stuart Young expressed concern about the recent developments.
“Matters discussed included the continued provision of personal protective equipment (PPE) to ensure the health and safety of Immigration Officers stationed at the airport. Measures are also in place to maintain continuous Immigration services for both incoming and departing passengers,” the release said.
The release said the Airports Authority of Trinidad and Tobago (AATT) continues to sanitise all workspaces at the airport on a regular basis, in accordance with the guidelines from the Ministry of Health. It added that the ministry will continue to provide all necessary resources to ensure the well-being of its officers.